Is Schadenfreude Sometimes a Good Thing?

L. R. Laverde-Hansen By L. R. Laverde-Hansen, 31st Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

Puritanism is Alive and Well in Our Celebrity Culture. Here is a piece from the archives.

United in Shame

LeBron James and Anthony Weiner would seem to have little in common, except that they both shared a bad week. They were both stars in their respective professions. But they wanted more. LeBron wanted an NBA Championship ring, and Anthony wanted to be Mayor of The City of New York. Both have failed spectacularly.

At this point the comparisons should end. LeBron is another superstar athlete who came up short. He's young, he'll be back. Except for a few million hearts in Cleveland, he didn't really hurt anybody. Anthony Weiner by contrast has become a disgrace and a national joke. It's unlikely he'll continue in elected office.

But there is one thing which ties two figures together, and it has more to do with the nature of fame than with them. There is something intoxicating about fame. We love to watch a talented, ambitious person on the way up. We don't mind much if that person is a little cocky, even pushy. After all, celebrities are stand ins for our own dreams and desires.

However, there is some point which the confidence which comes from success turns into arrogance, and that arrogance turns into hubris. The celebrity begins to take the fame for granted and assumes nothing is out of reach, even things which cross the lines of decency and good taste. Then said celebrity begins to cross said lines. LeBron James leaves a city that loves him without a sincere "thank you," then makes his decision to play in another city a televised melodrama unworthy of a WWE plot line. Anthony Weiner thinks nothing of engaging in x-rated behavior with women he barely knows.
That's where we come in. After such celebrities break even our thin standards of decency, there is a king of karmic retribution of sorts. LeBron became the new villain of the NBA--the type of player everyone outside of Miami rooted against (not good if one is seeking endorsement deals). Anthony Weiner became the best thing late-night comics have had since George W. Bush (how I miss him). But let's be honest; we take it a notch further.

After watching these top dogs lose their places, we get off on their comeuppance. They haven't been this happy in Cleveland since they invented Rock 'n' Roll. LeBron jokes abound. Weiner jokes abound. We have put those overbearing celebrities in their place.

That brings us to be the question: is all this celebrity schadenfreude a good thing? Is all this mockery, even glee about the misfortunes of hot shots a positive development? After all, it seems like they subconsciously brought it on themselves. LeBron could have quietly informed Cleveland of his decision and given a simple statement to the media. Anthony Weiner could have not started 'cybering' with women, not lied to the media, etc.
Maybe all this nastiness is not so bad. There has to be some mechanism of shame to preserve a culture's set of norms and values. Since our celebrity culture is a microcosm of our global village, we need some unofficial equivalent of a village council.

Maybe we are still modern Puritans, locking a minor offender in updated versions of a pillory. Fame serves as the lock, which traps the offender and forces him to take the humiliation. So what if we laugh a little? Yuck it up, it's good for society.

For ancient Romans and Japanese samurai, defeat and shame were enough to warrant suicide. LeBron James and Anthony Weiner are not going to kill themselves, but right about now they wish they were nobody famous.

Originally published on Yahoo Voices
New York June 14, 2011


Anthony Weiner, Culture, Lebron James, Schadenfreude

Meet the author

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
Poet, playwright, commentator. I write wherever I can. Currently I reside in the City of New York.

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